CINCINNATI — Jeff Ruby opened his first location, The Precinct, in September of 1981. it was the same month the Cincinnati Bengals began its first Super Bowl season.
Since then the team, the city and Ruby's businesses (especially the award-winning Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse) have become demonstrably linked. He's been friends with players and coaches through the years and is one of the Bengals and Reds biggest fans. When the team gave out another set of game balls this week for their win over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Division playoff game, one went to The Precinct.
While the city was electric when the Bengals made the Super Bowl in the 1981 and 1988 seasons (the actual Super Bowl dates were 1982 and 1989), he thinks fans are more excited for this year's playoff run than any of the previous Super Bowl seasons.
"Maybe it's recency bias," Ruby said. "It seems to be more exciting now because it's been so long."
1981 was the same year the Bengals drafted Cris Collinsworth, who Ruby said became a loyal customer at The Precinct when he came to town. Visiting NFL teams would also visit, as well as celebrities and rock acts that were on tour. During live game coverage of Super Bowl 16, Ruby said CBS would show live shots of fans in the nightclub portion of The Precinct watching the game.
"CBS actually cut in live during the game because we had Johnny Bench and Pete Rose up there," Ruby said. "We had a CBS banner decorating the upstairs of the nightclub. There were a lot of cut-ins to get reactions. The game was just like 1989, it went down to the wire."
Ruby missed the AFC Championship game against the San Diego Chargers - the game was dubbed the Freezer Bowl because of the frigid wind chills. Ruby called the game temperatures "ridiculous." He missed Super Bowl 16, even though it was just up I-75 in Detroit, because The Precinct was so busy at the time.
He made it to Miami in 1989 for the Bengals second Super Bowl. Ruby said he was comfortable enough roving around that he managed to sneak into the Bengals locker room during half time. Tim Krumrie, the All-Pro nose tackle on the team, had broken his leg in the first quarter in a gruesome injury.
"Believe it or not, I acted like I was with the team," Ruby said. "Tim is there, I knew him, and he was laying down. I walked around and said, 'Get this guy a TV so he can see the second half.' I got him something to drink, I acted like I was in charge. We got a TV and it had an antenna on it. I didn't even belong in there."
Ruby said years later when he watched a replay of the game. He didn't know NBC's coverage included views of Krumrie - watching the game from a stretcher in the locker room - on the TV he found.
Most talented Bengals team ever
Cincinnati has its share of Pro Bowl quarterbacks, receivers and running backs. Ruby said this year's team has more going for it.
"We have more talent on this team than any team I've seen since 1970, when I moved into this town," Ruby said. "There was a lot of growing pains before they got going, but they have an elite quarterback, maybe the best three wide receivers on one team in the NFL and an elite running back. They have a lot of good players on defense. They've recruited free agents and drafted well. This team has more talent than in the past."
Is Joe Burrow the best quarterback in the history of the franchise? That's a tough question for Ruby. Burrow has only played one full season after suffering a knee injury his rookie year. Ken Anderson was the prototype West Coast Offense quarterback when Bill Walsh was with Cincinnati, and had a Hall of Fame level career. Esiason was an NFL MVP and called the best play-action quarterback of all-time. Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton also have cases to make.
"Boomer is a good friend of mine," Ruby said. "If you listen to (Boomer) on the pregame show, he's Joe's biggest booster. He's had him on the show as well. Kenny Anderson is a player a lot of people believe should be in the Hall of Fame. Time will tell. It's only Joe's first year, but I don't think there's a quarterback the Bengals would trade Joe for, whether it's Aaron Rodgers, or Tom Brady - whether he's going to (keep playing) or not - I think he's the only quarterback the Bengals want.
"What he did at LSU, he's years ahead of his age. He's a leader and mature. He has the 'It' factor. He has the swag and he's also talented."
Like other Bengals players, Burrow is also a fan of Ruby's food. The team often brings visiting free agents to The Precinct when they come to Cincinnati. Burrow is always there with coaches when any offensive talent comes through. Ruby said when the team was in Nashville, Burrow was one of many players who ordered food from his steakhouse in Nashville because they couldn't leave the hotel. The team has also brought potential draft picks, like quarterback A.J. McCarron.
If the Bengals want Ruby's for dinner at the Super Bowl, they'll have to take it with them. There isn't a location in Miami.
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